Last night the Liberal-National Coalition party was declared the winner of this year's election, with Scott Morrison retaining his position as Australia's Prime Minister. Labor leader Bill Shorten delivered a concession speech just before midnight following a neck-and-neck campaign between the two parties.
Below are some of the key takeaways lawyers can expect to see going forward.
The value of access to justice
In the lead-up to the election, Lawyers Weekly looked into the priority the major parties are placing on access to justice moving forward.
With this such a pertinent issue within Australia’s legal profession, and one that has been raised substantially prior to both yesterday’s voting and the federal budget rollout in April, we wanted to find out whether this key issue matched up with the respective parties’ political agendas going forward.
In terms of the Liberal Party, its official website as of late April made no consideration of the justice system specifically as an election policy however it did cite that the “combating of violence against women and children” as remaining as one of the Morrison government’s top priorities, “as part of its plan to keep Australians safe”.
Mr Morrison noted at the time his government “would deliver the largest ever Commonwealth investment of $328 million for prevention and frontline services through the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022”.
In response to a query from Lawyers Weekly, the Attorney-General Christian Porter MP, emphasised the legal assistance package as announced by the Morrison government in the recent budget “as the basis of the government’s ongoing support of the legal assistance sector”.
“It includes $918.4 million over four years for legal assistance to be delivered by legal aid commissions (LACs), community legal centres (CLCs) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS),” he continued.
“From 1 July 2020, combined with existing funding, the government will provide $1.2 billion over three years for legal assistance services to deliver front-line services to disadvantaged Australians.
“This will see baseline funding increase to $369.9 million per year, and includes making permanent, an increase in funding to CLCs of $7 million per year that would otherwise have ended in 2020-21 and making permanent an increase in funding of $12.3 million per year to LACs and ATSILS that Labor had otherwise scheduled to end on 30 June 2021 and allocating entirely new permanent funding of $10.0 million per year.”
The outcome of the federal election will also prove interesting for those law firms occupying the workplace relations and employment law arenas.
Two weeks before this election, international law firm Ashurst compiled a summary of the major parties’ policies on key workplace issues for individuals and organisations to determine possible impacts that could be felt by a win of each major party.
First taking a look at minimum wage and penalty rates, Ashurst reported the Coalition does not support FWC changes to the process of setting a minimum wage, and also supports the FWC’s decision to cut penalty rates.
In terms of whistleblower laws, the firm noted the party supports new private sector whistleblower regimes which commence on 1 July 2019, however it does not support a reward scheme or the establishment of a protection authority.
Moving on to enterprise bargaining and industrial action, the Coalition does not support changes to the existing bargaining framework, Ashurst lawyers noted.
In terms of underpayments, the Coalition’s plan will see the provision of “in-principle support for the Migrant Workers Taskforce’s recommendations, including introduction of criminal sanctions for exploitative conduct that is clear, deliberate and systematic”.
Ashurst also said that part of this sanctioning would see the increasing of penalties for underpayments and extension of accessorial liability provisions in the Fair Work Act.
Commentary from various parts of the legal profession has been mixed in the lead up to this year’s federal election. Now that the results are in it’s clear that many calls will start to get louder.
The Law Council of Australia is among those who spoke out prior to the result, detailing what was needed and why.
While not taking a prominent stance over which political party was the preference for the peak legal body, LCA president Arthur Moses SC said there are several key areas of legislative reform that needs improvement for the betterment of the Australian community.
This includes increased funding of legal assistance, strengthened governmental and legal system integrity, and consideration as to the law and those who are at a disadvantage.
Access to justice, the strengthening of integrity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, criminal justice, the law and people experiencing disadvantage, human rights, business rights and consumer rights, and professional regulation should also take priority.
“The LCA is calling on parties to significantly increase the federal contribution of legal assistance funding by $310 million a year,” Mr Moses noted at the time.
“[Furthermore] we believe the enactment of a federal bill of rights is vital, as the existing legal framework does not adequately protect fundamental human rights.”